Making decisions. Follow this simple method...
July 4, 2010 3:30 PM   Subscribe

What tips and tricks do you use to work out what you really want for your future?

A little particular background before a wider question.

My and my partner need to move. We're at that kind of age where we need to think about things like lifestyle choice and style along side planning for the future, money, savings, and eventually the housing market.

I’ve been spending a long time writing in my diary about it, chatting with friends etc but not coming to any real conclusion about what to do. A deadline is approaching fast and we will have to make a decision and then some decisive action within the next week.

So I’m interested...when you are making a decision, especially a difficult one that’s both subjective and objective, what tricks do you use to realise what you really WANT as well as what is best? How do you compare and how do you make a decision? Do people actually do pros/cons and use them? After you made the decision, did you realise what was REALLY important and what you just thought was?

I apologise for this being quite broad but Im interested in hearing all opinions.
posted by Neonshock to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
On the "what you really want" question, one method is to get yourself extremely exhausted (mountain biking muddy in the cold rain) and then try to catch yourself thinking "I'm just going to do THIS." It helps you figure out which option is the default that comes naturally, and which option requires using energy to talk yourself into.

Another method: pretend you are in the airport five years from now and you just ran into someone who asked how all that decision-making turned out, what had really worked out well, and what you're going to do next. Get a partner to pretend with you and tell them your whole story.
posted by salvia at 3:52 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is the good old method of tossing a coin -- and then seeing whether the result is a disappointment.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:01 PM on July 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

Flip a coin. Sometimes it's difficult to decide between 2 options because they are basically equal, or within your judgment's margin of error.

On preview, too slow...
posted by jon1270 at 4:03 PM on July 4, 2010

Someone on a previous post said "write down sentences of all the options; hundreds if need be. When you find the one that makes you start to cry, that's your solution."
posted by The otter lady at 4:06 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This could work, or it could be lame: What if you added 'so what?' to the end of your lists. ie. "If we moved out of London there would be a smaller job market" what? "I would never find work in my field" what? "I could never change fields because I'm not qualified for anything else..." Using so what? can sometimes be a tool to get to the truth of your greatest needs and fears.
posted by gillianr at 4:25 PM on July 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

I make lists of the things I'm trying to evaluate. Some I order from most to least important, with a rating of importance. Deciding between options, I do a pros/cons evaluation and give them emotional impact ratings. Laying it all out on the page helps me see the big picture, and distances me from the minutae bogging me down.

The one concept that makes me feel comfortable with making big choices is this: few decisions are permanent and irreversible, if you don't like what you chose then you will most likely be able to change it later. You don't have to 100% plan your future to perfection now. Your situations, priorities, luck, and options will change over time. If you end up not liking the city, job, living situation or whatever that you have chosen, you will be able to change that at some point. Just try to make the best of it, whatever happens.

If you want this cushion of comfort though, saving money is definitely part of what enables you to change your mind quickly and comfortably. Save as much as you can comfortably manage.
posted by lizbunny at 4:32 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps the problem is that you don't have enough experience to know what you really want. You don't give a lot of background about yourself, such as your age, where you are living, where you have lived, etc. If you are in a position to do so (don't have to buy a house immediately, etc.) try some different things out. Make your choices as reversible as you can. Don't pick what you want to do for the rest of your life, but what you'd like to do next. If you don't like it, change it.
posted by unannihilated at 4:44 PM on July 4, 2010

Almost every decision/choice is dependent upon what you make of it--there are very few, if any, right decisions about life, However there are some guidelines that I find useful.
1) Which choice is going to enhance my experience of personal integrity--that is something that will always be with you
2) Which choice is consistent with your most closely held values
3) Assuming the first two are considered--pragmatism is not all bad. We do end up living in a day to day world and need to have sufficient resources to free us up to live consistent with ones values
4) It most situations it is better to do something rather than nothing.
5) If you have any tendency (as we all do) to experience resentment do not make premature compromises. Compromises need to be jointly shared and owned
posted by rmhsinc at 5:06 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am chronically indecisive about big things and small. The coin flipping works, you flip it and then, in that half-second, you know which one you really wanted to do. Turning it over to fate shuts my brain enough just enough to let an actual instinctual response happen.
posted by The Whelk at 5:24 PM on July 4, 2010

A poem that someone on Mefi once answered a question of my own with:

If you need to make up your mind
but are hampered by not having any,
the simplest way out of the bind
is just to try tossing a penny.

No not so that chance shall decide the affair,
while you passively stand there moping,
but because when the penny is up in the air
you'll suddenly know what you're hoping.

Also, I find that sometimes it helps to not think about it at all. Do something else, distract yourself, and stop trying to think it all over. Once your mind stops going down the same paths to the same forks and dead ends, perhaps you'll stumble upon some solution that hadn't seemed apparent before.
posted by twirlypen at 6:14 PM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always know what the good decision is. I don't always make it and it's usually because I've talked myself out of it by making lists of pros and cons or tried to be logical about it or whatever. I find my sub conscious does a much better job of that kind of stuff if I will just listen to it.

Odds are you know what the right choice is and haven't made it yet out of fear or because you know it'll be harder or have some significant drawbacks.
posted by fshgrl at 7:01 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think I spend too much time trying to evaluate what the optimum decision would be. You're probably better off if you can spend less time and effort choosing and more time and effort embracing what comes. I'm not very good at doing that but I think I'd be better off if I did.
posted by XMLicious at 7:12 PM on July 4, 2010

Art Tatum really turned me on. That’s where my style came from … style… I haven’t any style. I just blow, like Art. He didn’t have any style, he just played the piano, and that’s the way I play. We were real close, and he loved me. He used to sit down and talk to me and one day he said, “Don, don’t ever worry about what you’re going to play or where the ideas are going to come from. Just remember there is no such thing as a wrong note.” He said, “What makes a note wrong is when you don’t know where to go after that one. As long as you know how to get to the next note, there’s no such thing as a wrong note. You hit any note you want and it fits in any chord.”
posted by alms at 7:26 PM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

31 Days to Fix Your Finances is a simple method to help you clarify your values and goals. I run through the whole thing from scratch a couple of times a year as my life changes. The concept is that you should work for your dreams and values since those are what are important to you. It is a very simple plan but it does help me focus on the things that are important to me.
posted by calumet43 at 7:34 PM on July 4, 2010

Consider focusing on being as an alternative to goal setting. What kind of person do you want to be? What does your perfect work day look like? Your ingredients for a perfect weekend are:... Once you've achieved a goal, you have to start over again down this same path of goal setting. Once you've decided what kind of person you want to be, everything else just sort of lines up.

Please no that you will never have enough information to make a perfect decision and that things generally work out ok anyways.
posted by Brent Parker at 10:37 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

when making a big decision, I will try to imagine myself actually doing the thing in question, to visualise what my life would be like. The right path usually becomes really clear, I can see myself doing that thing, and feeling good about it. If I envision myself in a situation that makes me uncomfortable or anxious, it's a pretty good indication that it's a bad idea.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:24 AM on July 5, 2010

Here is an article by an incredibly well respected statistician/mathematician/decision theorist on making choices like these. Incidentally, he's the one who figured out the "fairness" of a coninflip. It's a bit technical in parts, but that's not what's important. If you get super-bored, just check out p11-13.
posted by Suciu at 5:39 AM on July 5, 2010

This previous thread might help.

I have a good friend and school chum who got his PHD on just exactly this topic --personal futures.

My typical advice along these lines is a bit simpler and more abstract.

You need to get a sense of your Identity, Purpose, and Direction to "plan" your life. I do this with individuals and couples and they seem to respond well.

Identity: Meditate on who you truly are.
What makes you truly joyful? Last time you lost track of time doing something, when you looked up and a lot was done and three hours were suddenly gone -- what were you doing?
What did you enjoy as a young child? Maybe ask your parents what activity/toy/etc. you were seemingly obsessed with as a toddler?
Where do you see the best of your parents in you? What traits or talents of yours do people consistently compliment you on?
What makes you feel at home, like you fit in, like you are exactly where you are supposed to be?

Purpose: What are you in the business to do? What needs can you fill?
Think of all the relationships in your life, from family to friends to abstract things like your community and country. What do they need right now? To which needs are you called/compelled to respond? How might you try to meet those needs? Which of those needs can be a source of income for you?

Direction: Pick a time more than twenty years in the future -- your retirement, empty nest, your 85th birthday, whatever. Describe a best possible day in your life at that time. Be very specific (not just "I'll be happy and healthy."). Describe relationships, friendships, health, activities, hobbies, money, food, sleep, possessions, your position relative to your moral compass, etc. What specific things would have to happen along the way to get to that place. (Staying alive is a very basic example, which will require considerable strategy in and of itself)

Given the above:
What interim goals seem necessary to make progress toward my best future?
What "shoulds" must govern your life if you are to achieve your purpose and be true to your identity?
How can you move closer to your goals?
What can you do right now? Take the next steps.

And finally: Meditate on these things regularly. Make a weekly examination. Look at your accounts and your calendar and assess how your time and money support your long term goals. And then revisit your goals regularly, making a quarterly retreat of it.

There are some assumptions in the above. Like that your Purpose is tied into your relationships -- in service outside yourself. Or that you have some element in your personal identity that is innate and not entirely malleable. That you are "created" as a unique expression of something. You may or may not agree, but I have found through experience working with people that the above exercises, in a religious setting or not, are very effective in helping someone start with a life plan.
posted by cross_impact at 4:17 PM on July 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you like quantifying things, I think that engineers use Pugh Matrices to make complex decisions like this. You can add in weights to account for the fact that living within walking distance of espresso is more important to you than owning a cat (for example).

In my personal experience, making big choices is a passive rather than an active process. Try carrying something in your pocket and every time you touch it, it reminds you of your choice. I propose that, eventually, you will think of your decision and realize you have already made it.
posted by emmykm at 6:32 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make a list of pros/cons in your head or on paper.

Let your thoughts "incubate". For me, important decisions cannot be rushed.

If you are leaning towards one option in your heart, think about why you still undecided about it and how you would feel after the opportunity to take up this option is gone. The latter thought works wonders at times.
posted by xm at 12:53 PM on July 8, 2010

In many circumstances, any choice will work out well if followed through wholeheartedly. So don't wobble around and tiptoe forward while looking across at what might have been -- make a choice and go for it. Embrace the opportunities that your choice gives you.

One factor that sometimes gets undervalued in careful planning is enjoyment now. You may feel that big sacrifices will pay off later, but of course the world comes with no guarantees that your vision of later will ever arrive. So make sure to include enough pleasure now.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:31 AM on July 9, 2010

« Older Which mortgage documents need backups?   |   Boston fireworks visible from Brighton? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.